Research To Develop Both Fuels And Value-Added Chemicals From Corn & Other Renewable Resources
October 6, 2003
Golden, Colo. and Wilmington, Del. — The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and DuPont today announced a joint research agreement leading toward the development of the world's first integrated "bio-refinery" that uses corn or other renewable resources—rather than traditional petrochemicals—to produce a host of valuable fuels and value-added chemicals.
The $7.7 million Cooperative Research and Development Agreement calls for DuPont and NREL to collaboratively develop, build, and test a bio-refinery pilot process that will make fuels and chemicals from the entire corn plant—including the fibrous material in the stalks, husks, leaves, and the starchy material in the kernels.
The agreement is part of the larger $38 million DuPont-led consortium known as the Integrated Corn-Based Bioproducts Refinery (ICBR) project. The ICBR project—which includes DuPont, NREL, Diversa Corporation, Michigan State, and Deere & Co.—was awarded $19 million in matching funds from the Department of Energy last year to design and demonstrate the feasibility and practicality of alternative energy and renewable resource technology.
The initiative will develop the world's first fully integrated bio-refinery, which will be capable of producing a range of products from a variety of plant-material feedstocks. Several bio-refineries currently produce a range of products mainly from starch-rich or protein-rich biomass, while other bio-refineries start with a variety of vegetable oils.
"DuPont has a rich history of partnering with governments to enhance the quality of life through science," said DuPont Chief Science and Technology Officer Thomas M. Connelly. "We are pleased the U.S. Department of Energy and NREL support this initiative and recognize that bio-science offers feasible solutions to meet our energy needs while reducing our environmental footprint. The scarcity of non-renewable resources amplifies the need to develop sustainable science-based solutions."
"We at NREL are pleased to partner with DuPont in this exciting undertaking," said NREL Director Admiral Richard Truly. "With this project our nation takes a big step toward the day when we can produce many of the transportation fuels and chemical stocks we require from domestically grown corn and energy crops, as well as agricultural and forestry residues."
Operating like a conventional refinery, the ICBR will make use of the entire corn plant. Purified sugars from the corn kernel will be the primary source of value-added chemicals, while the remainder of the corn plant—commonly called "the stover"—will be converted into fuel-grade ethanol and electrical power.
One of those value-added chemicals could be 1,3 propanediol (PDO), the key building block for DuPont* Sorona®—the company's newest polymer platform—which can be used in applications such as textile apparel, carpeting, and packaging. Through metabolic engineering, DuPont recently developed a fermentation-based process as the basis for the manufacturing of bio-PDO. This process earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Presidential Green Chemistry award earlier this year.
Michael Pacheco, director of the National Bioenergy Center at NREL, specifically noted DuPont's leadership in biotechnology and project management, and NREL's expertise in biomass pre-treatment enzymatic conversion of the cellulosic components of biomass and fermentation of the resulting complex mix of sugars as key expertise capabilities. New technologies that produce energy from biomass will allow the U.S. to reduce its reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels, while creating new markets for underutilized grains and crop residues—helping to stimulate the agricultural economy, he said.
"DuPont has a proven ability to take great ideas, work to make them more cost effective, and move them into the marketplace," Pacheco said. "The combined capabilities and years of research expertise of both DuPont and NREL creates what we believe is an ideal partnership."
Doug Kaempf, program manager of the Office of the Biomass Program within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), said partnerships between industry and the U.S. government's national laboratories are essential to catalyze the emergence of a bioenergy industry in the United States and reduce the dependence on imported oil.
"The DuPont-led agreement is one of a portfolio of cooperative research agreements that combines the resources of the federal government with those of our industrial partners to develop biomass derived fuels, chemicals, and power," Kaempf said.
NREL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Midwest Research Institute, Battelle and Bechtel. In addition to its work in plant- and waste-derived fuels and chemicals, NREL is DOE's leading center for research into solar power, wind energy, advanced vehicle design, geothermal energy and hydrogen fuel cells.
DuPont is a science company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by solving problems and creating solutions that make people's lives better, safer and easier. Operating in more than 70 countries, the company offers a wide range of products and services to markets including agriculture, nutrition, electronics, communications, safety and protection, home and construction, transportation and apparel.